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From Idea to Norm : Promoting Conflict Prevention


Summary, in English

This study is concerned with tracing the process of how conflict prevention is moving from the realm of ideas to the field of action. Why is it that, despite historical as well as recent evidence of the infeasibility to prevent wars, the idea of conflict prevention has resurfaced to meet the challenge of the new wars of the post-Cold War era? The study investigates whether the growing interest in preventing the outbreak of violent conflicts marks the coming of age of conflict prevention as an international norm able to induce preventive practices. Adopting a social constructivist perspective, it analyzes the links between ideas, interests, norms and practices. Regarding actors and structures as mutually constitutive, this study advances an analytical framework that draws attention to the pivotal role of the norm entrepreneur in the dynamics of norm evolution. The evolution of a norm pertaining to conflict prevention is traced in the post-Cold War era, and Sweden’s activities as an international norm entrepreneur in the EU and the UN are analyzed. It depicts the Swedish efforts to construct, diffuse and institutionalize a norm pertaining to conflict prevention as well as to translate conflict prevention into practice by participating in the preventive UN peacekeeping mission (UNPREDEP) in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The analysis reveals that a social constructivist perspective can assist us in investigating the links between ideas, norms, interests and practices. It shows that interests are defined in the context of internationally held norms, and that the growing interest in preventing violent conflicts may be derived from the emergent norm pertaining to conflict prevention. Norms emerge through the efforts of norm entrepreneurs. Through an analysis of Swedish norm entrepreneurship, this study finds that a small state’s ability to advocate norms relies on the powers associated with compelling ideas, on presentation of “good” ideas when the time is ripe, and on the use of persuasive rhetoric to convince potential norm followers. Norm diffusion and socialization are found to be interactive processes involving the norm entrepreneur and the norm followers in a mutual learning process that may, as this study demonstrates, shape and reshape the evolving norm. The analysis illustrates how the evolution of the emergent norm pertaining to conflict prevention is facilitated by the construction of a normative fit with the frame of mind of the norm entrepreneur, the normative convictions of the potential norm followers and the existing normative context. Finally, the study demonstrates the interactiveness of norms and practices by analyzing the preventive UN peacekeeping operation in Macedonia. Although that unique preventive peacekeeping mission has not been replicated, and conflict prevention has clearly not become a regular practice, this study suggests that the mission contributed to spur the process of norm evolution by bridging the gap between idea and practice of conflict prevention.

Publishing year





Lund Political Studies



Document type



Department of Political Science, Lund University


  • Political Science


  • Polemology
  • international relations
  • social constructivism
  • norm entrepreneur
  • norm evolution
  • international norms
  • Swedish foreign policy
  • the European Union
  • conflict prevention
  • the United Nations
  • Freds- och konfliktforskning




  • [unknown] [unknown]


  • ISSN: 0460–0037
  • ISBN: 91-88306-38-0

Defence date

24 May 2002

Defence time


Defence place

Edens hörsal, statsvetenskapliga institutionen


  • Espen Barth Eide